Why healthcare needs Silicon Valley

By Brian Dolan
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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsLast week my colleague Neil Versel, MobiHealthNews' Contributing Editor, penned a provocative article called, "Silicon Valley often misses the point of healthcare." Neil hit a nerve. While the discussion that followed from Neil's article was constructive, I think Neil drew the wrong conclusions from his core argument. Yes, Silicon Valley often misses the point or ignores the core issues facing the healthcare system, but that's a good thing.

While I planned to write an immediate rebuttal to Neil's column, MobiHealthNews readers weighed in with supportive commentaries and excellent counterpoints. I included some snippets below along with my commentary in parentheses.

ANDY: Silicon Valley has been way to focused on "cool". Cool doesn't fly with 80-year-olds with five co-morbidities, where most of our healthcare dollars are being spent. (First off, I know some 80-year-olds who like cool gadgets, but that's beside the point. As another commenter, KEVIN wrote, "healthcare is so fractured that solving 'the problem' is too simplistic." There's room for a lot of problem solving. Making personal health and wellness tracking "cool" could be a huge.)

MARK: Unless we can bend the trend, today's cool are 15 to 20 years away from swamping the system. somebody needs to focus on changing the culture of personal responsibility and ownership of health. Silicon Valley can do that. (Mark sees the big picture.)

DONNA: A good point, but you have to deal with today's reality and today's users as well--or else you won't be in the position to fix the "cool folk." (There's no one entity fixing all of healthcare's problems. Most health-focused Silicon Valley types might be working on changing cultural norms around fitness, while others with more healthcare experience can focus on fixing the immediate issues facing the system. There's absolutely no reason to wait to make fitness "cool" for the masses, if that's possible.)

CHRIS: Much of the cost of healthcare comes from unhealthy lifestyles developed at a young age. If young innovators can create solutions to the problem of people making unhealthy lifestyle choices, we'll save a lot more money -- and people will be a lot healthier -- than if we only innovate at the treatment end. (Right on, Chris.)

GEOFF: The healthcare market will do well to accept all comers who want to tackle this massive challenge. Yes, we'll get some carpetbaggers, yes, we will get some horrible failures, but we're talking about the most important market in the world. We're competing for talent with every startup, every incubator, and every wild-eyed idea out there -- not just in Silicon Valley, but in every city and state in the US -- from Boulder to Boston. (You would have to be pretty arrogant to believe you can change the healthcare industry. Given the many issues facing the system, should healthcare insiders really be turning those people away? We can't expect change to happen accidentally.)

The most helpful comment came from Jim:

JIM: Neil, thanks for a historically correct and sober perspective about how hype cycles and technology can seduce the well intentioned developer. Go easy on them, they are where innovation comes from and healthcare needs it. Conversely, go hard on them for not seeking experienced council from history and people who have actually been involved in patient care and have seen a market cycle or two. Keep pushing the mantra “easy-to-use technologies that simplify the lives of the old and sick,” adding, “…and the lives of those who care for them.” Keep hoping for products that help both the sick and well to get more connected with their health -- we can’t depend on someone else doing it for us, which is what most of “old healthcare” is predicated on. Fight the good fight.